First black to head Bar body
Much has changed in America since the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association was founded in 1918.
Back then women couldn’t vote in the United States, they couldn’t serve as jurors and many law schools had rigid quotas that limited the number of women who could study law. Not so anymore.
Fast forward to 2012. The women’s vote is going to be crucial to President Barack Obama’s re-election to the White House in November; two women are justices of the United States Supreme Court, one of them appointed by Obama; and women have emerged as vital legal advocates in and out of the courtrooms.
There’s more. A woman from Barbados, Sylvia Hinds-Radix, is the top administrative judge of Brooklyn’s civil courts, overseeing the work of about 150 judges.
Now, for the first time in its history, the 550-plus member Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association has its first black president, Justice Hinds-Radix. She was recently elected to head an organization whose mission is to “eliminate gender bias in the court as well as to acknowledge and advance the skills and status” of women lawyers.
“There is still much work to be done to end gender bias in the courts. That’s why the association’s task isn’t about to be completed anytime soon, if at all,” she said. “Lots of time women are treated differently from men. It must be remembered that law is still a predominantly male-oriented profession. We have to ensure that women receive the same level of pay, have the right to become partners in law firms and have the right to sit on the bench. Those rights must be protected.”
It stands to reason then that the Women’s Bar Association’s leader wants to see more women become attorneys and serve as mentors for young people in schools, especially female students.
“We get involved with schools to encourage young women to enter the profession and become effective lawyers,” said Hinds-Radix. “I want to see us reach out to more young people beginning in junior high schools so they can begin thinking about a career in law. I want to see more continuing education classes for women who are in the legal profession.”
Of the many hurdles confronting today’s women, under-representation of females in courts looms large.
“In far too many cases women come before the courts without legal representation,” complained the Barbadian, who grew up in St James, attended high school in her birthplace before emigrating to the United States to pursue a career. “That’s especially true in civil cases. There may be a situation of a divorce and the woman finds herself unrepresented in court. There may a foreclosure on a property and she is trying to save her home without an attorney. She may be trying to get financial support for her children.”
Little wonder then, that an effort is under way to get some type of legal representation for civil litigants, whether male or female.
Hinds-Radix, the mother of three daughters, is highly regarded in and out of courtroom of New York state. She is also a member of the Brooklyn Bar Association that brings together both male and female attorneys. She sits on the board of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, an organization of attorneys of colour.